For several generations, the housing choices available to older and elderly adults essentially boiled down to four options:
- Stay put (either alone or with a similarly aging or infirm spouse) in a house or apartment that may no longer be the right fit
- Move in with an adult child or other family
- Relocate to an age-restricted retirement community
- Or, if regular assistance is required, uproot to a long-term care facility or nursing home
In With a Little Help From Our Friends: Creating Community As We Grower Older, author and journalist Beth Baker observes that, as roughly 10,000 baby boomers a day are turning 65, “a significant cultural shift is underway.”
The current and coming generation of older adults is realizing, says Baker, “that they can make other choices about where and how to live. With intention and planning, people around the nation are creating ways to live in community, alternatives that give them more control, more companionship, more dignity and choice than generations past.”
Unlike a commune (famously personified by 1960s-70s era hippies and flower children), cohousing arrangements rarely come with a political or cause-directed agenda and they do not involve a shared ownership of property.
In a cohousing situation each person or family purchases a residence — be it an apartment, townhouse or even a single-family house — which contains everything a typical home would have (i.e., a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room). However, the residences are linked to a shared space, such as a yard and gardens, and a large common room, dining area and kitchen that can accommodate group meals or gatherings.
The point of cohousing is community and being able to live independently without living entirely alone. Cohousing setups are typically intergenerational and don’t involve staff-provided services, but they can be age-specific. A few “senior cohousing communities” have been built, and some allow residents to hire household and care services as needed.
2. HOUSE SHARING
In these arrangements a person who has a home may invite a friend or family member, or even a tenant, to move in and help with expenses and chores. The setup might involve people of the same age or generation and the arrangement is one of peers residing together for companionship and cost efficiency. Sometimes two or more friends actually purchase or rent a residence together and become housemates. (For an example, see the sidebar above and the video below.)
Another house sharing scenario can revolve around the needs of an elderly property owner who doesn't want to relocate but can no longer care for herself or a large home entirely on her own. A younger person (and younger can even mean someone who's 60 or older) may be willing to provide some caregiving and transportation assistance in exchange for affordable or flexible housing. If so, the two can make for well-matched housemates.